The term creative nonfiction was first used by Lee Gutkind in the 1980s as a synonym for narrative nonfiction. Gutkind wished to convey the idea that nonfiction wasn’t always dry and utilitarian. By employing such elements as character, dialogue, scene building, strong voice, innovative structure, point of view, and literary devices, writers could craft nonfiction that sings.
Over the years, the term has come to be used more broadly, describing both expository and narrative nonfiction that makes use of elements originally considered as exclusive to fictional texts. As a result, most of the trade nonfiction titles currently published for children include a mix of these creative elements.
Biographies and history books generally feature a narrative writing style and include central characters, real dialogue, and scene building. Science books often feature an expository writing style and employ strong voice, innovative structure, and carefully-crafted literary language that delights as well as informs.
Never, never, never does creative nonfiction refer to books that take creative liberties with the truth. Everything must be accurate and verified through fastidious research. Any kind of undocumented embellishment kicks a piece of writing out of the nonfiction realm.